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Board boots elections chair

By Cristina Holtzer and Harrison Kaminsky / The Pitt News Staff

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While the candidates are clamoring for seats on the Student Government Board, the Elections Committee Chair has lost hers in a way she deems unjust.

The SGB dismissed Elections Chair Lauren Barney from her position on Friday, stating concerns over her conduct. Barney will appeal the decision with the SGB Judicial Committee in an attempt to regain her position. Meanwhile, Kevin Tracey, who previously served as vice chair of the Elections Committee, will assume Barney’s role.

Board President Mike Nites informed Barney via email on Oct. 31 that the Board had dismissed her from her position as Elections Chair. Barney ran for Student Government Board in the previous two elections but lost and applied for the Elections Committee in 2014. The Board appointed Barney as Elections Committee Chair in January.

“I was 100 percent blindsided,” Barney said.

Nites said, in addition to general improper conduct within meetings and hearings, Barney sometimes neglected to follow Robert’s Rules of Order, the general procedure required for hearings and meetings by the SGB governing code.

One example of Robert’s Rules of Order would include motioning to the committee to vote, which Barney said she doesn’t always remember to do. 

“We wanted to make sure that the integrity of the election is maintained. They could say things that weren’t followed in the rules,” Nites said. “To remove that possibility of that being brought up, we as a Board felt that we had to make the decision.” 

The Board, besides members Graeme Meyer and Meghan Murphy, met with Barney and Tracey on Friday at its weekly planning meeting. Meyer and Murphy abstained from the meeting to avoid conflicts of interest because they will run for office next term.

“The Board, barring Meyer and Murphy, concluded that the sanctity of the election could have been compromised if Barney were to retain her post,” a SGB release from Sunday said.

Nites said a member of the Elections Committee, whom he refused to name, brought Barney’s conduct in Elections Committee meetings and hearings to his attention early last week. 

Barney held an Elections Committee hearing in the SGB office on Oct. 29 to deliberate on an elections infraction filed on Oct. 27 by Wasi Mohamed, who is running for President next term, against Meyer and his affiliated slate.

Nites said the meeting was very loud and could be heard throughout the office.  

Barney said she held the Elections Committee’s hearing regarding Mohamed’s complaint against Meyer on Oct. 29 in the SGB conference room because of a scheduling conflict with rooms. Barney said the Election Committee normally holds hearings outside the SGB office. 

“It was the biggest mistake I could have made,” Barney said.

Barney said the Elections Committee deliberated from 12:04 a.m. to 1:34 a.m. and voted on the infraction. 

“We didn’t just decide last minute. It was taken seriously,” Barney said. 

Nites said he wouldn’t comment on whether he thought the Election Committee members were acting inappropriately during their deliberation, but that they were speaking loudly. 

“During our Board planning sessions, people can’t hear us speaking,” Nites said. “If there is order in the room, and people aren’t shouting at each other, you can’t really hear outside the conference room.”

Barney said Nites pulled her aside after the Elections Committee’s meeting and told her he could hear things during its meeting. At this time, Barney said, Nites questioned her procedure.

Barney said the infraction accused Meyer and his affiliated 87s slate, which includes Murphy, current Allocations Chair Nasreen Harun and Everett Green, a sophomore majoring in finance, of breaking the elections code with “paper campaigning,” or the distribution of flyers or posters to voters. The code forbids paper campaigning until five days before the election, which is on Nov. 11.

Meyer and Nites both refused to comment on the infraction filed by Mohamed, stating that it’s not yet public information until after both the Elections Committee and Judicial Committee put it to a vote. Although Barney said she could not provide the status of the Elections Committee hearing regarding the infraction filed by Mohamed because it’s private information, she said Meyer filed an appeal of the decision on Oct. 30.

Elections infractions remain private, Nites said, to prohibit candidates from slinging unfounded accusations at one another in the middle of an elections season.

Barney said she advised Mohamed that if he believed candidates were breaking the elections code, then he could theoretically file several infractions against the slate. For example, if a slate passed out 10 papers, Barney told Mohamed he could file 10 infractions.

Meyer filed an infraction against the Elections Committee to the Judicial Committee on Oct. 28, stating bias within the Elections Committee based on the email Barney sent to Mohamed advising him that he could file multiple infractions against one slate. 

The Judicial Committee met on Oct. 29 and determined that Meyer’s case against the Elections Committee warranted a hearing.

Nites said he invited Barney to the Board’s weekly planning meeting on Oct. 31 at 3 p.m. to discuss her conduct and have an “open discussion” about her position. He said the Board did not go into the meeting with the intent to dismiss her. 

Barney said while she expected an open discussion, she didn’t get one. 

“I wanted to open the lines of communication,” Barney said. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is the Board I was working with for a year. They’re going to help me so we can work this all out.’”

At the meeting, Barney said the first question Nites asked her was whether the meeting could be recorded — something that would be unusual at a casual weekly planning meeting.

The Board questioned Barney at the meeting and, at times, asked Tracey to corroborate Barney’s answers regarding whether Barney followed proper procedure during meetings and hearings, Tracey said. He declined to comment on what types of questions the Board asked him or how he answered.

“It was like a witch hunt,” Barney said. “All the questions were super leading. Before they came in, it felt like they already decided I hadn’t followed procedure. I was being grilled in an interrogation room.” 

Nites said the Board does not conduct a formal hearing to remove someone. 

“We held a discussion with Lauren to learn more about the situation and then made a decision,” Nites said. “This follows the exact procedure outlined in the Constitution.”

Judicial Committee Chair Audrey Winn said the Judicial Committee hasn’t yet determined when Barney’s appeal hearing will take place, but that she is aiming to schedule it this week. Winn said the hearing will be public and the deliberations private. 

“Her dismissal isn’t final until the appeal is heard and ruled on,” Winn said. “Our decision will decide if she is dismissed or not dismissed.”

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Board boots elections chair